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November 07, 2017

Philly chefs' favorite foods for under $20

18 local leaders in the industry share their must-have go-to cheap eats

Foodie Chefs
Chef File Art /for PhillyVoice

You don't have to spend a fortune to eat like a king. Just ask some of these top Philly chefs.

Ever wondered what your favorite Philly chefs are eating when they’re off the clock? 

Spoiler, it’s not all tasting menus and foie gras tests. From late night tacos to early morning pho, here’s a peek at the under $20 eats that keep the city’s kitchen talent fueled up and ready for service.

Hiroyuki “Zama” Tanaka, executive chef of Zama and CoZara heads out to Cheltenham for soondubu ($13) at Dubu

“They have authentic Korean food, an English menu plus soju and beer!” he told PhillyVoice during a recent interview. 

Craig Meyers, executive chef Cinder Copper & Lace takes his team to El Jarocho in South Philly. 

“Best al pastor tacos [$6] in the city. They throw in nopales and a ton of different sauces. If chefs like anything, it’s an abundance of condiments.”

Yehuda Sichel, executive chef of Abe Fisher, grabs a couple of friends and heads to Prima Pizza in the Italian Market where they share a torta de lengua [$8], cheesy burrito [$8] and an order of tacos [$7] to share. 

“You know the place is legit because after work, it's filled with Spanish-speaking industry people who make restaurants run.”

Peter Rule, executive chef of Mad Rex, is another supporter of the late night tacos [$7] at Prima Pizza

“Sometimes it’s a long wait, but who cares? Tacos served until 4:30 a.m. are awesome.”

Nich Bazik, executive chef at The Good King Tavern, has a preferred way to start his days. 

“Going to Pho Ha before work is the best breakfast!” A bowl of pho there runs around $7.

Peter Serpico, chef and co-owner of Serpico, heads to Famous Fourth Street Deli for a sausage, egg and cheese on a club roll [$7] for breakfast. 

“It helps me reach my one-per-day sandwich quota.”

Shane Solomon, chef of Pizzeria Stella, has a 20-plus year history going to Chinatown’s Tai Lake

“My go-to dishes are the pork belly hot pot [$13], sautéed clams with minced chili [$15], and their Peking duck [$15] is incredible. However, this is really a place to go if you want to experiment and learn about food without spending a ton. Jellyfish head, duck tongue, sea cucumber, goose feet – it’s all there, and it’s all really well done.”

Andrew Russet, chef-owner of Russet, doesn't need a moment to think about it when it comes to choosing his desert island cheap eats. 

“That’s a no-brainer for me. It’s George’s Sandwiches in the Italian Market. I usually either get a meatball with sharp provolone [$7] or roast pork with roasted hot peppers [$7].”

Kelsey Bush, chef-partner of Green Engine Coffee, is all about Nan Zhou Hand Drawn Noodle House

“This place hits so many marks for me. It’s an easy, quick and cheap meal, on average only $7 or $8 per dish. If you’re with a group, you can easily share a couple different plates, feel full and not break the bank,” she said. 

Leo Forneas, executive chef of Twisted Tail, votes for Cambodian corner Khmer Kitchen when it comes to an affordable and intimate date night where you can get a delicious meal at little cost. 

“My favorite dish there is the prah hok kateeh [$8], caramelized ground pork with an array of crisp Asian veggies, served like crudité.”

Daniel Eddy, executive chef of Walnut Street Cafe, keeps his cheap eats old school. 

“The meatball sandwich [$9] at Triangle Tavern is a favorite of mine. The vibe is great there and the food is on point.”

Townsend Wentz, chef-owner of Townsend and A Mano heads to Shiao Lan Kung for hot and sour soup [$2], steamed giant oysters with ginger and scallion [$19], dry chicken with black beans [$9] and salt and pepper squid [$15]. 

“It’s an unassuming, dated location compared to all of the new spots, and it crushes the place on the corner up the street.”

Justin Swain, executive chef of Rex 1516, takes a route back to his East Falls home that conveniently crosses paths with Shake Shack

“If they’re still open and there's parking, I usually drop in and grab a Shack Burger [$6] and fries [$3] as a late night snack. I try and hide the fact that I had it from my wife.”

Jezebel Careaga, chef-owner of Jezebel’s Cafe and Jezebel’s Studio, enjoys post-errand late lunches with a falafel [$7] from Goldie

“It’s fast, healthy-ish, delicious food, located right in the heart of Center City.”

Michael Sultan, chef-owner of Revolution Taco and Say Cheese, said he can taste the care put into the menu at Indonesian favorite, Sky Cafe

“Their sates [$6] are amazing, but my favorite thing is mie bbq pork, homemade egg noodles with pork, wontons and vegetables in chicken broth.”

Lee Styer, chef-owner of Fond, stops into Viet Huong while running errands at Hung Vuong Vietnamese market. 

“My go-to is the papaya salad with beef jerky [$7]. It’s a giant salad of crisp shaved papaya mixed with the fresh flavors of Thai basil, lime and fish sauce finished with peanuts and rice crackers. It’s really refreshing yet filling and can be great quick lunch.”

Brad Spence, executive chef and partner of Amis and Pizzeria Vetri, likes to give back on his off hours by heading to charitable luncheonette, Rooster Soup Co. 

“My favorite late night snack is the Rooster Burger with fries [$13]. I triple up on the patties because I’m healthy!”

Matt Delatour, chef of Southgate, heads to Fishtown for an only-in-Philly breakfast. 

“For pre-shift indulgences, it’s Philly Style Bagels because their bagels [$2] are different in regard to other Philly shops, and even in New Jersey – since theirs are boiled in beer. They also have a great selection of bagel sandwich options.”